An interview with August Thompson of The Ivy Bookshop

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

Honestly the entire grounds outside. We’re so lucky to be situated on a few acres of land that we own, and I’m always directing new customers to check it out. I especially like this little secluded area, a bench surrounded by a grove of trees; it’s a lovely place to sit and read! Within the store itself, my favorite part is the little poetry corner. We get a lot of compliments on our poetry section because it’s just phenomenally curated, and there’s a little display with one of our booksellers’ favorite poetry books.

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

Oh this is such a hard question because so many books have great covers! I love love love the cover for “Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body” by Megan Milks, so that was really fun to have out on display during Pride month. But I also wanted to give a shoutout to the new release “Thrust” by Lidia Yuknavitch, which truly speaks for itself.

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

Recent new release: “The Kaiju Preservation Society” by John Scalzi. Honestly I think all a lot of us really need this summer is to escape into a fantastical new world of giant monsters. It’s fun, it’s snappy, there’s really cool fantasy biology. I think just about any sci-fi fan would love this book.

Backlist: “Convenience Store Woman” by Sayaka Murata. I read this book recently and absolutely loved it. Keiko is one of those voices that really stays with you a long time after reading, and as a retail worker who is also a little bit of an oddball myself, I really connected with her. The book has a ton of interesting things to say about capitalism and neurodivergence and alternate life paths, but really it was Keiko who kept me reading.

Do you have a strange customer story?

There’s one customer who I’ve never spoken to–only his secretary. I’ve seen his name around Baltimore and get the impression that he’s kind of a big deal, so it’s kind of fun when I get to call him up and let his secretary know his books are ready!

What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?

Definitely Casey Plett. While sadly I was only able to e-meet her as I was out on medical leave during the event we hosted with her, I was honestly a little starstruck to even be emailing with her and to get her to come out to the store. I’m still kicking myself for missing that event, everyone I know who went to it said it was absolutely phenomenal, but life does happen.

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

A lot of people think booksellers just hate when someone comes in to ask something like “What’s the book about World War I with the red cover that I read about in the New York Times?” In reality, 9 times out of 10 I can find that book just by googling “red cover wwi ny times book review”, and even if I can’t, then I just get to be on a fun detective mission for a few minutes trying to find your book! It makes me feel happy to solve a mystery, and the customer gets the book they’re looking for, and it’s generally a win-win interaction. So please don’t feel embarrassed to ask questions like this! (Just be kind on the rare occasion that we can’t find the book after all.)

What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

My least favorite bookstore task is probably shelving overstock. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a crucial task, and I always keep that in mind when doing it. It can just be rough on the knees with all that bending and stretching. So I try to do it in small chunks, doing other tasks in between.

My favorite part about working in a bookstore is probably when I’m stationed at the front desk, getting to see what people are buying! It’s always so cool to see parents buying their children books I remember staying up all night reading because I just had to see what happens next, or to see people buy underrated books that I absolutely adore, or even to buy books I’ve never heard of with covers so intriguing they immediately go to my TBR.

Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles?

We actually do sell a lot of “Circe” and “The Song Of Achilles.” I would point people to the newly released “Wrath Goddess Sing” by Maya Deane, which is a retelling of the Achilles myth. Deane’s writing is feminist and fierce, and she’s really done her research, which is fun to see in myth retellings. Plus, come on, that cover is gorgeous.

August Thompson is a bookseller at The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, MD.